Member Spotlight: Clint Dennett, James Commodore & Rajiv Mehra

Clint Dennett & James Commodore, Avalon Dairy Shop Stewards

BECOMING INDUSTRIAL Strength

Our members in the Industrial sector—which runs the gamut from meat processing plants to recycling centres—are tough. As UFCW 1518 Executive Board member and Grand River Foods employee Rajiv Mehra says, “we are pushed a lot.”

GRAND RIVER FOODS Worker & UFCW 1518 Executive Board Member Rajiv Mehra
GRAND RIVER FOODS Worker & UFCW 1518 Executive Board Member Rajiv Mehra

He describes his own work environment as incredibly cold and wet, but it’s all because of the union that workers like him have the health protections and work wear that they need to do the job safely and well. 

What these physical workspaces lack in warmth, our members make up for with care, community, and vitality. The Industrial sector boasts one of the strongest networks of engaged and vocal Shop Stewards, who take great care to protect their coworkers. Consistently, they act as both a buffer between the shop floor and the employer, as well as a liaison between the larger union and their coworkers. 

Avalon Dairy member Clint Dennett is one of these Stewards. “I was in it before we were even certified. I took it on as a challenge. [Stewards] are pretty much the leaders around here—we try to bring everybody together and on board.”

Inspiring passion and power in their coworkers will be the next big challenge for these leaders. The more members who are willing to speak up, enforce their collective agreement, and use the union’s platform to advance causes that they value, the stronger the union and the better their wages and working conditions will be. Dennett agrees and says that mentorship and education for members will be key because the Stewards can’t be everywhere at once. Mehra notes that shifts in demographics must be considered when talking about empowering workers too. When he first started at Grand River Foods, many languages were spoken among staff. 

Update Magazine sat down with Mehra, Dennett and other passionate industrial activists to ask them how the union has improved their workplace, and how their coworkers can get more involved.

How has unionizing benefited your workplace?

James Commodore (Avalon Dairy): Respect. A lot more. We don’t have a lot of the bullying from management anymore because we have rights now. We have a voice. Things have changed quite a bit for the better.

Rajiv Mehra (Grand River Foods): Job security. If the employer has done something wrong, you can approach the union through your Shop Stewards—they’re the first people on the floor, elected by the members. We’ve seen many times when people are terminated from the shop. When you’re nonunionized you have no rights to come back to work. But when you’re unionized, we can fight to bring people back and get them their job back.

Clint Dennett (Avalon Dairy): I’m glad we got a constant rep. When [Union Rep] Michael came in, it was like a safety net, so
now we can move forward. He’s here—and it’s good for the members to see him. It’s that reinforcement of ‘look the union’s here.’ 

What advice would you give to members who want to get more involved?

Mehra: Call the union! See the benefits that your union has. They will support you in every aspect, wherever you are. You need their help, they come. Nobody can harass you, nobody can push you, nobody can bully you—these are the advantages the union has. And without the union, you can’t get all these benefits.

Dennett: I would say, ‘do it.’ That one class that we took online, you learn so much. You think you know a lot, but as soon as you do a class you learn so much more.

Member Spotlight: Yukie Imada

UFCW 1518 Community Health Member Yukie Imada

We’re sharing stories from our latest edition of Update Magazine (Summer 2023), starting with this beautiful op-ed by Community Health Worker Yukie Imada. Look for print copies of Update Magazine in the mail or at your workplace!

HOW WORKERS SAVED BC’S HOME CARE SYSTEM

Most of the clients I support driving to their homes and delivering care to their doors—are seniors. When I look at them, I see my mom and dad, who are now in their 80’s. When I meet their families, I think of my sister, supporting our mom through her dementia diagnosis.

All three live in Japan, which I left one final time in 2011 to settle in BC. I had two young children, and as a migrant parent, finding steady work that could pay the bills was not easy. In home care, I saw an opportunity anddecided to pursue a job as a Community Health care Worker (CHW) to support my kids. 

But I wasn’t acting on maternal instinct, alone; I was thinking of my own parents, an ocean away in Japan. I thought that if I can’t be there for them in their old age, I want to be there for someone else’s parents. If I can’t be beside my sister, I want to be there for BC’s family caregivers, to alleviate the pressure that they experience. In this last round of bargaining, my ability to keep doing this work for British Columbians was at stake.

To save our jobs and home care we needed a real recruitment and retention plan that would fix our under-resourced and understaffed teams. Financial parity with our counterparts at medical facilities, protections against violence, and provisions for mental health were also a must. 

As of March 1, 2023, we secured a new contract with all these improvements and more. As a CHW this win affects me directly. It means I can afford my bills and that I’ll be less susceptible to burnout. But it also means I can pay it forward and support health care at all levels, which is the true value of quality home care. 

By preventing falls and monitoring medication intake, CHWs protect individuals and help them maintain their independence. We also protect families by ensuring that sick, recovering, disabled or elderly relatives can stay connected with loved ones in the comfort of their own homes. Last but not least, we keep communities strong by ensuring that vulnerable people stay woven into the fabric of their neighborhoods. 

Even though the work that we do is limited to private homes, it affects the public health care system as a whole and, therefore, every British Columbian. For instance, by doing regular house visits and providing mobility exercises, we prevent overcrowding in emergency rooms and continuing-care centres, where facilities staff are severely understaffed and overworked. 

Everything is related. A solid Community Health care system is the foundation for an all-around healthy society. My mom always said everything feeds into each other. You can’t distinguish giving from receiving because they’re related. Just as she cared for me, I do for my community what I would do for her if she required the same level of care as my clients. Similarly, this new contract gives CHWs the support that we need to keep supporting our neighbors.